10 Surprising Facts About Serendipity
By Garin Pirnia
After making its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Serendipity—Peter Chelsom's holiday-themed rom-com—made its way into theaters on October 5, 2001 and became a turning point in the director's career. After a series of box office bombs like Town & Country, Serendipity became the first of Chelsom's films to turn a profit, and several more hits followed.
In the case of Serendipity, which plays out a bit like Sleepless in Seattle or Before Sunrise, John Cusack (Jonathan) and Beckinsale (Sara) play a pair of star-crossed lovers who meet in New York City one day during the holiday season then spend the next few years finding their way back to each other through a series of fateful events. In the nearly 20 years since the film's initial release, it's become a holiday staple for many rom-com fans. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Serendipity.
1. Sara, Kate Beckinsale’s character, might not totally understand the definition of serendipity.
Over Frrrozen Hot Chocolates at Serendipity 3, the restaurant for which the movie is partially named, Kate Beckinsale's Sara tells Jonathan how she came across the restaurant: “[Serendipity] is one of my favorite words,” she says. “It’s just such a nice sound for what it means: a fortunate accident. Except I don’t really believe in accidents. I think fate’s behind everything.” However, Merriam-Webster sees it a little differently; the dictionary defines serendipity as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”
2. Serendipity 3 was a popular restaurant long before the movie.
Serendipity the movie has a strong association with the New York City restaurant of the same name. In the film, Sara and Jonathan drink the restaurant's famous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate while discussing fate. After the release of the film, the restaurant saw an increase in visitors—you can even request to sit at the Star Table where Cusack and Beckinsale sat—but Serendipity 3 has been a cultural instruction since it opened in 1954. Everyone from Andy Warhol to Salvador Dalí has dined there (Warhol even has a table dedicated to him). Two other films shot at the restaurant: 1996’s One Fine Day and 2006’s Trust the Man.
3. Sara was originally supposed to be American.
London-born Beckinsale told The Telegraph she auditioned for the part with an American accent. “It started out that Sara was American when I first met Peter [Chelsom],” she said. (Chelsom is also British.) “I auditioned in American, and he said, ‘Now we can try it in an English accent?,’ and I was terribly offended! I think he decided it would be a hoot to have an English girl.”
4. The Twin Towers were digitally removed from Serendipity.
The movie, which contained shots of the Twin Towers, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival just two days after the 9/11 attacks. The Chicago Tribune reported the images “caught some audience members off guard,” so the studio had them taken out. A similar thing happened in Zoolander and in the Spider-Man trailers.
“I don’t think [the audience] wanted to see those images anymore,” Cusack told The Telegraph about their removal. “They just wanted to feel something else. People seemed to be really liking the fact that they could view the city in a different way.”
5. John Cusack didn’t want to promote the film in New York City.
Because of 9/11, Cusack didn’t feel comfortable promoting the film, especially in New York City. “I didn't want to do any talk shows or anything,” Cusack told The Telegraph. Ultimately, he realized that it was something the citizens of New York really wanted—and needed. "They wanted everyone to come back and the shows to come back and the movies to come back and wanted New York to be magic, to be visibly New York,” Cusack said.
6. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale had only met once before filming Serendipity.
Though Cusack and Beckinsale are the couple at the center of the film, they only have a few scenes together—in the beginning and in the end. When Cusack was filming High Fidelity, Beckinsale met him for a couple of hours during an audition. “I was more pregnant than you can be: I was three days overdue,” she said. “But I told them I was pregnant, and I had these giant boobs and blonde hair, and then suddenly I didn’t anymore. I think that was what Peter [Chelsom] actually liked.” Fortunately for all involved, Beckinsale and Cusack had automatic chemistry. “You can't really control that," Beckinsale said. "It was just one of those happy things that happened."
"I met Kate once before, but sometimes you meet people and feel like you've known them for ages," Cusack told the BBC. "That's what actors have to do. It's great, it's like an affair without the mess!"
7. Kate Beckinsale believes in fate—sometimes.
Beckinsale explained to Bustle that, depending on the day, she may or may not believe in fate like Sara did. “I have those days when I really do and then I can have days where I really don’t," she said. "I think it really depends on what’s going on. I don't know if it’s realistic to be [a hopeless romantic], but I think we all have the streak.”
8. Kate Beckinsale said men like Serendipity more than her action films.
In 2016 Beckinsale told Bustle how it’s her male fans who most often gush to her about Serendipity. “What’s funny about that movie is that if people come up to me in the street or at the store and say, ‘My favorite movie is ...,’ and they say Serendipity, nine times out of 10, it’s a man,” she said. “I find [it] really amazing considering I’ve done so many movies considered a 'guy' movie ... All the machine guns I’ve fired, the boys like Serendipity better!”
9. Kate Beckinsale once spontaneously re-created Serendipity's elevator scene.
While staying at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto during the 2018 Toronto Film Festival, Beckinsale realized she was in the same elevator as in Serendipity. In the scene, Sara and Jonathan are in elevators at the Waldorf Astoria (but it was filmed at Fairmont) and try to see if they’ll pick the same floor. If they do, then they’re fated to be together. Upon realizing the happy accident, she coerced the hotel’s porter to play along and she sort of reenacted the scene.
In 2019, Beckinsale told Jimmy Fallon the story. “I found myself in the elevator going, ‘Wait a second. I’ve been in this elevator before. This elevator's very familiar,'" she said. “Which never happens. I’m not constantly saying that in elevators.” She also said the scene itself was unrealistic. “Which is such a load of sh**. I can’t even imagine. What a terrible idea, really.”
10. A Serendipity TV show is in the works.
In August 2019, it was announced that a TV adaptation of Serendipity is being developed for NBC. The show’s premise follows Harry and Claire, not Jonathan and Sara. The couple falls in love (naturally), but “are separated by circumstance and then spend years trying to find one another again ... with a little help from the universe.”
Serendipity superfan Jonny Umansky will write and executive produce. “I’ve been madly in love with this movie for more than half my life,” Umansky told Variety. “Never has the world needed a show like Serendipity more, and the love stories we have in store are big, bold and filled to the brim with whimsy and wonder.”